David Prosser: Oil workers pick the wrong fight

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The Independent Online

Outlook: As with all industrial disputes, the row at the Lindsey Oil Refinery is so mired in claim and counter-claim it is impossible to know who to believe.

But what is clear is that the unions and their members have made a pretty crass tactical blunder. By embarking on wildcat strikes, the workers denied themselves the protection of the law and thus left themselves vulnerable to the mass dismissal notices they then received.

But then this dispute is not really about the 50 or so workers laid off. Rather, the row is a replay of the battle over foreign workers that was first staged back in January at Lindsey. That's why the pickets' placards still carry the slogan "Put British workers first".

Here's the bad news for those on strike: employers will go on using international workers, especially from within the European Union, where cast-iron labour laws protect their right to do so.

This is how free markets operate. There's nothing to stop British companies competing for business elsewhere in the EU. And employers can't be expected to maintain one set of rules for local employees and another for those coming here from abroad.

Anyway, if they were honest with themselves, the workers would admit they have already accepted a globalised labour market. A British mass-production textiles industry, for example, is non-existent these days, mostly because so many of us buy cheap garments imported from emerging markets.

It may be, of course, that the striking refinery workers choose not to clothe their kids in cheap gear imported from the Far East out of sympathy to their British colleagues being priced out of that employment market. But somehow I doubt it.

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